Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Lady Di(e) and journalism geekiness

OK, so over on HorrorTalk, the day Princess Diana died came up in passing, and I started to tell this stupid, long-winded story, when I decided it was really off-topic and not really appropriate for the thread at hand.

So, of course, I figured THIS was the place to tell it.

When Lady Di was in her car crash, I was working at my first full-time newspaper job, and there were a bunch of us young journalists who would go off to one of the guys' places and drink beer after the bars closed. So whatever night it was that crash took place (I think it was a Saturday), we ended up over at X-Man's pad (he had the biggest apartment or the coolest neighbors, I forget which) drinking beer. Because when me and Pat, two of the three guys on the desk, left, she was still "hurt."

So when we saw on TV, she died, we, slightly or more than slightly intoxicated, called Jim, who we'd left behind (hey, he volunteered, he was just going home to his family anyway) and asked if he needed help. I'm not sure which one of us slurred the words into the phone, but he figured leaving us at the party was addition by subtraction when it came to efficiency and accuracy. ("Friends don't let friends edit drunk," you know.)

Well, at some point in the evening/morning, as we journalists are geeking out journalistically on the big story, I have a small revelation.

My parents, world travelers, just happen to be in ... wait for it ...

No, not England, that would be too easy.

Nope, they were in IRELAND.

Close enough.

So I called them. Time difference and all. And sure enough, I got them just as they were back from breakfast and preparing to head out. (Not sure how X-Man let me get away with calling Europe from his phone... the memory goes with age.)

And I say, hey, did you hear about Lady Di? (Which by that point had become more of a declarative than a name...)

No, they said. So I told them. They were, needless to say, somewhat shocked.

So I asked them for a wee favor: Could they head out and pick up a London Times (the big daily) and some tab newspaper and bring them home for me and my crew? We'd love to see how they covered it.

My father, mind you, studied journalism in college. (He never worked for a newspaper. I studied fiction in college, and I've never done anything BUT work for a newspaper. Well, until the movie comes out.)

So what did he do? He bought every freakin' paper he could find for the rest of the trip. An entire shopping bag full. ("Do you have anything to declare?" "Just newsprint.")

Then, of course, he chewed me out for the sore shoulder he got from lugging the bag around for a week. Figures.

He had, on the other hand, read most of the papers himself and rather enjoyed it.

Not as much as we all enjoyed reading them the next week at X-Man's, of course. But I don't think Dad had nearly as much beer.

And I must say, it was fascinating to see the variety and depth of the coverage - some special sections were on the street within HOURS after the news. Thick special sections. Some papers were Extras. Some papers had something dominating the front page all week long.

I think of this in the wake of the London bombings - I can only imagine the coverage was as thorough and complete, and I wish it weren't necessary, of course. The death of one person is a tragedy, to be sure, but the death of dozens and wounding of hundreds makes me wonder about that whole "benevolent God" thing. But that's beside the point.

On Sept. 11 and 12, 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, my newspaper put out its first Extra in who-knows-how-many years. I'm sure we weren't alone. I was too busy helping out and calling friends in the NYC area to really think about worldwide coverage.

But on the HT forum, someone brought up that one of the London tabs had simply run the giant headline, "Bastards!"

I know of at least one newspaper that did the same thing on Sept. 12, and someone else mentioned another. One of them was a broadsheet, one of the papers out of San Francisco, and that may well have been a first in history.

But that's the thing - good newspapers, at least in my experience, if they have the manpower, are prepared for these kinds of things - not so much terrorism, but major events. My newspaper had a special section on the Pope ready for YEARS before he died. So the coverage was as thorough as we could make it when he did. Again, I'm sure we weren't alone.

I'm not British and I'm not in England, so I can't say which event, the death of the Princess or this recent terror attack, was more "important" in the media.

But I'll tell you what, for a journalist, seeing those British papers after she died, that was geek heaven. And they were impressive.

They must have been, because for all his complaints about their weight, Dad still has them in the basement somewhere.

Of course, Mom and Dad have most everything in the basement. Old newspapers, old books, old games, probably the secret to fusion and the truth behind the Kennedy assassination, too. But that's another post.

HorrorTalk, where the discussion reminded me of all this
The London Times, representing England's broadsheets
The Sun, representing England's tabloids

And a link for the city of Easton, where we honed our craft, drank our beer, and eventually went our separate ways. X-Man eventually went back to Michigan, and I think he took one of the girls with him, lucky dog. I went to Allentown and Pat went to Pittsburgh. He was leaving for the hope of a girl, I was leaving to escape the memory of one. Not really the point. Pat eventually wound up in Allentown (small world, that newspaper one) and me, I wound up right here, in Jersey.